I want to take occasional opportunities over this school year to document some of the thoughts and feelings that are emerging as a back-to-work mom. There’s no telling just what I’ll cover here or what will come up. Less than one month in, here are my discoveries and truths I’m telling myself. Maybe they’ll offer some hope to you too!
1. My worth as a mother is not measured in the foods I offer my kids.
I text-messaged my friend who also returned to full-time teaching a few weeks ago, a photo of my back-to-school-eve grocery haul. I captioned the photo, “Kids, welcome to your new life…your new pre-packaged, processed, Lunchable life!”
My friend and I had a few good “LOL”s and “Bahahahaha”s over the text, but the truth is, that buggy was piled high with Jello and pudding snack packs, individually wrapped chips for lunches, convenience packaging for peanut butter, hummus, pre-sliced apples, granola bars, Nutrigrain bars, the 36-pack giant Poptart box, Danimals smoothies, and various other junk food that any of the five of us can grab and go for the new schedule we’ll be keeping.
I’ll admit, I only feel minimal guilt for this. For the past few years, I’ve gotten away from much of that stuff because I have been home and I have been the maker of convenience for my family. I have portioned out breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. I’ve cut up apple slices, made fresh smoothies, and gained a lot of joy from being in the kitchen. We’ve eaten off plates at our table, not out of insulated lunch boxes at co-ops, in classrooms, or even at home with a baby sitter.
What I have decided over the years, and it’s a reminder I’m clinging to now, is that the food does not make the mom.
How we feed our families isn’t a direct reflection of our worth as mothers. Praise the Lord we have the means to buy groceries and feed our kids not only healthy, filling meals, but also an abundance from which to also include treats and snacks in our grocery buggy. Buying some Oreo minis does not a Type-2-Juvenille-Diabetes candidate make.
2. It’s perfectly fine to still meet a friend for coffee. In fact, it’s a good thing.
The Sunday before my college classes started back, I had plans to meet up with a friend at our regular watering hole, Panera. I debated back and forth on whether or not I should go. I felt like I probably should stay home in that interim between church services and rest or do something productive. This is the time my entire family either rests, sleeps, or often the kids will be outside with the neighbors.
Ultimately I decided to go on and meet up with my girlfriend. We only stayed a little over an hour, but the conversation was uplifting, filling, and I went home feeling encouraged by my friend.
I set up a LOT of unreasonable expectations for myself. I always have.
Before my job even began, in my mind I began making a list of do’s and don’ts that I’d likely need to follow now that I was willingly throwing myself back into full-time teaching and work. One of those mental restrictions I placed on myself was, “well I’ll have to prioritize and I’m sure now I won’t have any extra time to visit with friends.”
The Lord places people in our lives to walk beside us in life-seasons. Getting back to work or having a job doesn’t mean I don’t get to hang with friends any longer. Now it just means I have to be more intentional to carve out the time and commit to filling this need I have. I’m still meeting my neighbor early in the morning three times a week for our big five mile walk. I am already in the habit and the exercise and conversation is good for me.
3. My children aren’t totally mine. They are His first.
The greatest reminder I have gently been given over these first few weeks of school is that I live in a near-constant state of belief that I can control every aspect of my kids’ lives. In fact, I wrote a little about it not long ago when my kids spent a week away from home. This is a constant tension I live in. I think I have always had tendencies toward this, but no doubt, our time in the military has only heightened that feeling.
For the past four years, the needs of the Army take precedence in our home. This means that often I feel like Ryan’s priorities and allegiances are with his job/calling. It’s kind of funny like that when you sign on the dotted line to lay your life down for your country. I see the big picture of this and know that’s just how our life works.
A by-product of all of that (whether real or perceived) is that I have become the default parent here. I don’t deploy or travel for work. I am always available when the kids are sick or life’s demands require me to be available. It’s been my joy and delight to be in that role.
But even-still, I’ve sometimes misbelieved that I am the spinner of the plates, the keeper of our family universe and that without me it would all fall apart.
Foremost, our children are blessings from the Lord. They are children of the Lord. They are His. So at an eternal level I can “let it go.” God has the needs of Kate, Mae, and Thomas in His heart. He longs to protect them, provide for them and ultimately draw them unto Himself closely. Maybe I need to get out of the way a little more often and allow that to sink in.
Secondly, the mental trap of being the default parent totally overlooks the blessing, the help, and the partnership of our marriage. Hello? I’m not doing all of this alone. Ryan is here. He is capable. He is available and willing and helpful and awesome. Again, maybe I need to get out of the way a little more and allow that to sink in too! I wonder how often I just bull-doze my way through our home life trying to call the shots, plan the week, and be overly vigilant to everyone’s needs. #simmerdownnow
Sometimes this even manifests itself in bossiness or trying to parent Ryan. He reminds me that I’m not his mother. I apologize often and am sincerely trying to work on this about myself.
Okay, that’s enough for now. I know other reminders and lessons will pop up all year long. I hope to be able to take a moment and articulate them here; not especially for you but mostly for me so that I’ll take heart and take these lessons to heart as well.